I have this embarrassing salad bar practice. You're going to think I'm silly (or else you're going to leave me a comment saying, "I DO THAT EXACT SAME THING!" and make me feel a little better. No pressure.)
See, I'm a little shy about how much salad dressing I eat. I was never one of those mostly-veggies-with-a-spritz-of-lemon-juice salad people. I was (am!) one of those bacon-cheese-and-crouton salad people, where the dressing has to touch every leaf with its creamy goodness. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the person behind me at the salad bar is watching me pour my bleu cheese dressing with thinly veiled disgust, silently tabulating the calories I'm about to consume.
To deal with this uncomfortable situation, I developed a little pantomime routine in which I dump as much salad dressing as I want on my salad before giving a little gasp and jerking the bottle up as if to say, "Oops! Of COURSE I didn't mean to pour that much salad dressing -- it just came out so fast!" Then I snap up my salad and hastily head to my seat.
I'm sure the lemon-spritzers in line behind me think I'm disappointed that my salad got drenched and that I'm really only eating it because I hate to waste food . . . right?! Okay, maybe I'm not fooling anyone.
The truth is, while I eat reasonably all week, I go all out on the weekends. And I can eat a lot. Like, enough so that more than one waitress has been driven to exclaim over the amount I have consumed (they better be glad I don't believe in docking tips). Like, enough that I can almost always out-eat any fully grown, healthy, hungry man around me.
In college, the impressive amount I could eat would become glaringly apparent in the dining hall, where most gals were ordering half a grapefruit for breakfast and my plate was overflowing with bacon and eggs. And a waffle. With, like, butter and syrup and stuff. This disparity produced lots of food embarrassment. For some reason, perhaps especially as a woman, I always feel like I should be, um, daintier or something.
Sometimes, though, a certain food compels me to stop caring about what other people are thinking. Recently, that food was Auntie Anne's Pretzel Dogs. I first saw them in the Dallas airport on a layover. I was reserved, ordering only one along with a couple of other small snacks.
But my first bite of that buttery, yeasty pretzel wrapped around a juicy hot dog was a surreal experience -- and I don't think it was just the medicine I take for my flight anxiety. I was hooked. I talked about the pretzel dogs throughout my entire weekend trip, and when I found myself flying back home to Charlotte through Dallas, I was prepared.
As soon as we touched down, I hastily disembarked and headed straight for the nearest Auntie Anne's. There, I immediately threw caution and food embarrassment to the wind, ordering 3 pretzel dogs and a big soft pretzel on the side to, um, balance out my meal. And cheese sauce. I was in pretzel dog heaven.
Clearly, the next step was to figure out how to make pretzel dogs at home in Charlotte. I found the following recipe and, while not perfect, it's pretty darn close, not to mention pretty darn easy!
The baking soda solution I dipped my pretzels in didn't seem strong enough to give them a nice deep brown color, so I tweaked it below. I also had a lot of fun with flavors. I made soft pretzels, pretzel dogs, cheddar pretzel dogs, and jalapeno pretzel dogs. And all bashfulness aside, over the course of a weekend, I ate almost every single one of them myself.
Do you ever feel any food embarrassment, or are you an unabashed eater?
Soft Pretzel Dogs
Recipe by: Adapted from CDKitchen
Yields: 8 pretzel dogs and 5-6 pretzels
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread flour
3 cups regular flour
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
8 Nathan's all-beef hot dogs (do yourself a favor and don't use anything but Nathan's!)
jalapeno slices (wear gloves to handle, and don't touch your eyes!)
coarse salt, to taste
4 tablespoons butter (melted)
Place warm water in mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast in, stirring to dissolve. Add the sugar and salt and stir. Add the flour and mix until combined. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (this took a few minutes on high speed with my KitchenAid mixer equipped with a dough hook). Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it. Place it in a warm area to rise at least 1/2 an hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. When dough's almost finished rising, prepare a baking soda water bath. I used one that I don't think was strong enough (from the original recipe) to brown the pretzels appropriately, so I've poked around and found a better one for you. Mix the warm water and baking soda and continue to whisk periodically as you work with your dough.
Once your dough is risen, spray cooking spray over a spot on your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Use a sprayed pizza cutter to slice off a strip of dough. Roll it, starting from the middle and working outward with greased hands, into a thin rope -- the thinner you get it, the more like Auntie Anne's pretzels it'll be. I even gently picked it up and let gravity help me lengthen it every now and then. For inspiration, watch this awesome video from the folks at Auntie Anne's on shaping, dipping, and baking pretzels.
Form your strand into a pretzel shape OR wrap it around a hot dog OR wrap it around a hot dog and strip of cheese OR wrap it around a hot dog with a strip of cheese and some jalapenos. When you wrap it around the hot dogs, just slightly overlap the dough so there aren't many gaps. Now dip the pretzel into your soda solution and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and serve immediately with hot mustard or Cheez Whiz (tastes just like Auntie Anne's cheddar dip!) for dipping.
P.S. Don't forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.